Dive, Snorkel, Repeat: Guide to Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Tukung Burung Island, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

People weren’t kidding when they said that Perhentian Islands is a must-see in Malaysia.

To be honest, I don’t have high expectations about Perhentian Islands because I’d seen the beaches in Malaysia and they aren’t really up my alley. Another blogger friend has also been here and she said it was “Just okay.”

In my visit though, Perhentian Islands turned out to be amazing. The beaches are beautiful and look pristine despite the hostels and resorts on the beach front. In fact, you can snorkel right out on the beaches and see various fishes and corals! I met another tourist in the island who said she simply snorkels around our beach and she has already seen turtles and manta rays.

To give you a bit of background, Perhentian Islands is a group of islands in northeastern Malaysia. “Perhentian” (per-hen-tee-an) is a Malay word meaning stop, referring to the place’s history as a stopping point for trade between Malaysia and Bangkok. It is composed of 2 main islands, Perhentian Kecil (“kecil” meaning small) and Perhentian Besar (“besar” meaning big). There are also smaller islands here, which are Susu Dara, Serengeh and Rawa islands.

Random view in Perhentian Kecil

If you haven’t heard of this place before, that’s because Perhentian Islands isn’t popular yet! Even some locals hadn’t been here yet, although it is famous to foreign tourists who are into snorkeling and diving.

[ Related Read: 23+ Beaches in Southeast Asia to Escape the Summer Crowd ]

When to visit Perhentian Islands

Like other beach destinations in western Malaysia, Perhentian Islands is open from March to October only (closed from November to February/March). The peak season is from June to August.

How to get to Perhentian Islands

Kuala Besut is the gateway to Perhentian Islands. You need to get to Kuala Besut jetty for the fast boats to either Perhentian Kecil or Perhentian Besar.

From Kuala Lumpur, there are several ways to get to Kuala Besut.

  1. Get on a bus from anywhere in Kuala Lumpur direct to Kuala Besut (duration: 8-9 hours, price: about RM46). These buses are limited though, so if you’re going on a long weekend, make sure to book a month in advance to be sure. From the Kuala Besut bus terminal, it is about 5-10 minutes walk to the jetty.
  2. Via Kota Bharu. Kota Bharu is the closest province to Kuala Besut.
    • Get on a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu (8 hours, RM44). From Kota Bharu bus terminal, hop on a CityLiner bus going to Kuala Besut (RM6, 1.5 hour, schedule starting at 8AM) or take a taxi/Grab (1 hour, RM70).
    • Or book a flight to Kota Bharu. From the airport, there are vans, taxis or Grab that can take you to the Kuala Besut jetty (1 hour).
  3. Via Kuala Terengganu. This route is a last option, if you have failed to book transpo to either Kuala Besut or Kota Bharu.

In the Kuala Besut jetty, get a round-trip ticket to your destination in Perhentian islands (1 hour, usually RM70, but the price also fluctuates between RM60 and 80 depending on the season).

The boats depart hourly from 8AM to 5PM. The return boats have limited schedule (8AM, 12noon, 4PM). During high season including holidays, boats go to the islands as early as 7AM and return to the mainland as late as 6PM.

For the return trip, make sure to inform your accommodation or text the fast boat company yourself when and which beach to pick you up, at least a day before or in the morning of your departure.

So here is my experience: I had booked for a long weekend to Perhentian Islands. Unfortunately, a full 3 weeks before the date, all TBS-Kuala Besut tickets were sold out so I booked for a TBS-Kota Bharu instead and then took a taxi from there. The taxi rate is the same as Grab’s. For the return trip, I was lucky to chance upon the last seat direct from Kuala Besut to TBS.

Where to stay in Perhentian Islands

You can either stay in Perhentian Besar or Perhentian Kecil.

Perhentian Besar is more expensive compared to the other one. It has family-friendly resorts and overall more expensive accommodations.

Perhentian Kecil meanwhile is best for backpackers and budget travelers. Here you can find campsites, hostels and homestays, particularly in its two main beaches — Long Beach and Coral Bay. There are also reasonably priced resorts here too.

Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Coral Bay.

As of this writing (September 2018), a lot of accommodations in Perhentian Islands do manual booking, meaning you can’t reserve online. This is a bit tricky especially if you’re going on high season since accommodations tend to be full house.

Budget stays in Perhentian Kecil

I stayed in Perhentian Kecil, so that’s what I’ll be covering here.

If you’re on a budget, there are camping sites you can book with online: Rainforest Camping Site and Orang Hutan.

There are also dorms offering as low as RM25-30 per head overnight, but usually they only accept guests who have also signed up to their diving courses. Some of the dorms you can look at are: Matahari Divers, Panorama Diver, Angel Diver and Oh La La.

If you’re going during low season, you can simply walk in without prior reservations in most accommodations.

Orang Hutan Camping Site
Orang Hutan campsite, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Orang Hutan campsite.

I stayed in Orang Hutan which is located in the Rainforest Beach. It’s basically a camping site located in the jungle. You’ll be given a huge tent (good for 2 people) with a mattress and pillow. What I like about it is the tent is actually comfortable and I have my own hammock on the side. The location is very peaceful, surrounded by the trees and bushes.

The owners own 2 cats named Ping and Malas, which are both very cute!

Here are some things you have to know if you want to book here:

  • It’s one of the cheapest accommodations in Perhentian Kecil.
  • The camping site itself is 5-8 minutes walk from Rainforest Beach.
  • Eating is cheap here because you will be asked to “donate” RM15 for a whole day’s worth of meals, in contrast to restaurants in the islands that charge RM12-15 for a sandwich or rice meal. I like the communal eating especially at night. During my stay, after dinner some guests would play guitar and ukelele and it was very relaxing.
  • You need to bring an insect repellant. The mosquitos come out at night (I think between 5PM and 7PM), so during that time it’s better to stay at the beach or inside your tent. (It’s similar to the camping area we stayed at in Koh Lipe.) Remember that Perhentian Kecil is basically a huge jungle surrounded by beaches, so wherever you go you can’t escape the mosquitoes anyway.

Another thing that I like about the Orang Hutan is the staff is very welcoming and will treat you like a friend. I felt very welcome. They also make sure that everything is in order, i.e., when it started to rain, someone checked that my tent is okay and retrieved my clothes from the clothesline back inside the cover of my tent.

Essentially, Orang Hutan is ideal for those who like nature camping. If you don’t mind a short trek, you’ll get your money’s worth here.

What to do in Perhentian Islands

Sign up for a tour

Island hopping tour in Perhentian Islands

Again, these tours are offered in Perhentian Kecil. Rates may differ depending on season and boat operator. Rental for snorkel and lifevest rental is included. Some tour operators also include lunch. Anyway, the rice meals in the fishing village can be as cheap as RM5-10 so it’s not really a big deal.

Snorkeling – short trip

Price: RM30-40
Places to visit:

  • Turtle Point
  • KK Bay Fish Point
  • Shark Point

Schedule: Morning or afternoon (2-3 hours only)

Snorkeling – long trip

Price: RM50
Places to visit:

  • Turtle Point
  • KK Bay Fish Point
  • Shark Point
  • Fishing Village for lunch
  • Light house
  • Romantic Beach

Schedule: 10:30AM to 3:30 or 4PM

Island hopping tour

Price: RM60
Places to visit:

  • Serengeh Island
  • Tukung Burung Island
  • Rawa Island + Lighthouse

Schedule: 10:30AM to 2-3PM

There are also day trips to Perhentian Islands which includes a round-trip boat ride and snorkeling. I suppose only locals sign up for this.

If you’re staying in a non-touristy part of Perhentian Island during low season, you might want to ask about the tours first. I stayed in Rainforest Beach which is a bit non-touristy even on a long weekend, and there weren’t enough guests to fill the quota of 4 people for the island hopping trip. It’s a good thing a local talked to the boatman directly and the latter organized for other tourists from another beach to join us.

So, I availed of the snorkeling tour (long trip) and island hopping tour.

Snorkeling in Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

Turtle Point, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Turtle Point.
Romantic Beach in Perhentian Kecil, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Romantic Beach.

In the snorkeling trip, you can see manta rays, small sharks and turtles and a whole variety of fishes, as well as thriving coral reefs. The Romantic Beach is also one of the most beautiful beaches I’d seen, and that’s saying a lot considering that I’m a local in the Philippines!

Rawa Island, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Rawa Island.
Tukung Burung Island, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia
Tukung Burung Island.
Clear water in Tukung Burung Island
Clear water in Tukung Burung Island. It reminded me of Maldives.

Kat snorkeling in Perhentian Islands

There’s also snorkeling in the island hopping tour but the whole trip is shorter. I actually prefer the island hopping tour because there are fewer people, and I was blown away by the clear water of Tukung Burung Island and the pristine beach of Rawa Island. Beach lovers, raise up your hand!

Snorkel on the beach

Snorkeling in Perhentian Islands, Malaysia

You don’t need to sign up for a tour to see the best of Perhentian Islands. Just bring your own snorkels and fins and snorkel right out on the beach.

Dive and get PADI certification

Perhentian Islands is one of the top diving locations in Malaysia, alongside Redang Island and Lang Tengah Island. It’s also one of the cheapest places to get PADI certified. There are PADI certification courses priced at RM950-1200, for 3-4 days.

Some of the best diving sites in Perhentian include:

  • Sugar Wreck
  • Temple of the Sea
  • Tanjung Besi
  • Shark Point
  • Vietnamese Wreck

See the beaches

Similar to Kapas Island, there are several beaches in Perhentian Kecil which are connected via pathways in the jungle. So you can allot a single afternoon to visit the beaches, which includes: Long Beach and Coral Bay, Romantic Beach, Rainforest Beach, Adam & Eve Beach, Turtle Bay, D’Lagoon, Mira Beach and Petani Beach.

Coral Bay, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Coral Bay.
Rainforest Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Rainforest Beach.
Mira Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Mira Beach.
Petani Beach, Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia
Petani Beach.

Make sure to bring water with you because trekking can be tiring. You can also hire a water taxi to get from one beach to another.

Party up in Long Beach

If you’re looking for nightlife, head on to Long Beach. You can enjoy a nightly movie screening in Panorama or Matahari, watch fire dancing or have drinks in one of the bars. Take note that alcohol is more expensive in the island.

3 days itinerary to Perhentian Islands

I worked in Kuala Lumpur and  can only get away during weekends or long holidays. Here’s a 3-day itinerary I made:

Day 0
– Take overnight bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut

Day 1
– Arrival in Kuala Besut
– Get to jetty and go on a fast boat to Perhentian Kecil
– Check in accommodation
– Explore the beaches

Day 2
– Snorkeling tour (long trip)

Day 3
– Island hopping trip
– Get the last boat back to the mainland
– Overnight bus back to Kuala Lumpur

I usually prefer to take a bus on weekend trips because it’s cheaper and I can sleep during the trip.

Estimated expenses

Selfie in Romantic Beach, Perhentian Kecil
Romantic Beach.

I spent about RM400-500 for a 3-day trip to Perhentian Islands. To give you an idea, here’s a breakdown of estimated expenses.

  • Round-trip bus from Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Besut: RM90
  • Return-trip boat from the jetty to Perhentian Kecil: RM70
  • Accommodation: RM60 per night x 2 = RM120
  • Snorkeling trip: RM50 / Island hopping trip: RM60
  • Food and miscellaneous: RM50

So basically, RM500 for 3 days is a safe budget if you’re traveling alone.

 

That’s it. Has this budget travel guide to Perhentian Island been helpful to you? Post your comments below!

 

P.S. You might also be interested in:

Other beaches in Malaysia:

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